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Fair organizers have a love story to remember

    When the fair comes to town, people pay admission and line up to buy tickets as the flashing lights and colorful sights of the Amusements of America midway lure them into an atmosphere of fun. They ride the rides, play the games, and devour the cotton candy and Italian sausages. Sometimes they fall in love.
    It can even happen between people who are involved in organizing the fair.
    Dominic Vivona owned Amusements of America, and was married to wife of 36 years, Maddalena. They were friends with Helena and Fred, a couple living in Charleston, S.C., who were members of a civic club that hosted an annual fair much like the Statesboro Kiwanis Club hosts an annual fair in Bulloch County.
    The partnership between the midway company and the civic organization led to the two couples becoming good friends, and their interaction went beyond business. Each couple was invited to the others' homes and social affairs. "Whenever we had a family function we invited them," Vivona said Thursday as he visited after the Statesboro Kiwanis Club meeting. Last week Amusements of America provided the midway for the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, which ends tonight. This is the 29th year the company has partnered with the club to bring the fair to the area.
    Helena was there, too. Helena is now Vivona's wife.
    How did this happen? The love story is unique and touching.
    The friendship between the four was a strong one.
    "They (Dominic and Maddalena) were some of the few special friends we had - family friends," she said. "We just became close friends."
    Dominic and Maddalena traveled across the country as the fair brought fun to community after community. Helena and Fred remained in a stable life in Charleston, enjoying "the country club life," working each year to help organize the fair and looking forward to seeing their friends again.
    But tragedy struck each couple just a few years apart. Maddalena Vivona was killed in a car crash in 1999.
    "Fred and I wrote her obituary in the Charleston paper," Helena said. "I went to sing at her funeral."
    Vivona was devastated, as were his friends.
    In 2001, Fred "had a heart attack the last night at the fair in the midway," Helena said.
    Dominic was there when his friend died. "I was right there when they tried to save him with the defibrillator."
    Each nursing his and her own grief and loss, Vivona continued traveling with the carnival and Helena continued her Southern life. But one year after her husband's passing, Helena caught up with Vivona again.
    
A toy dog and a glass of wine
   Of course the memory of her husband's death was present as Helena took her grandchildren to the Charleston fair on the anniversary of Fred's passing. But life goes on, and she found herself calling Dominic on a cell phone when her granddaughter had trouble winning a stuffed animal.
    With the flurry of activity and a grandchild who "had to go peeps" at the same time Vivona was trying to locate them, so he could make sure his friend's granddaughter received the toy dog she pined for, Helena kept missing him when he showed up where she had been.
    Finally, after a series of events interfered with her meeting Vivona, Helena gave up and did not call him back, fearing she was annoying him.
    "I was just too embarrassed," she said.
    But after the fair ended, it was a rainy Sunday when Helena received a call. It was Dominic, and he was on his way to her house with the stuffed dog. "He said 'I promised you a little dog for your granddaughter,'" she said.
    It was muddy, so he took his shoes off and Helena offered him a glass of wine when he came inside. When he asked permission to remove the muddy shoes, " I told him yes, but that's all you can take off," she said.
    Helena said at that moment she recalled her mother-in-law, who is now 96, giving her blessings should Helena find someone special. Fred's mother said "promise me you will remarry," she recalled.
    Later, she told Dominic what her mother-in-law said, adding "I hope and pray someone special will come into your life."
    Dominic looked into her eyes and asked "May I kiss you?"
    "I said OK," she said.
    He had to go to work, and she had to go to church, so the evening ended, but the romance had just begun.
    The next day Dominic called and asked Helena to dinner, claiming he had " a car full of cash" because the fair had ended and the banks were closed for a holiday that day, she said.
    
 Dinner and a pin
   Dominic handed Helena a jewelry box at dinner, and when she opened it, Helena was taken aback.
    "I told him 'you do not know the history of this pin,'" she said.
    The pin was one of several Helena had purchased on behalf of the Charleston civic club to give as gifts to wives of club members. He had given the pin to Maddalena Vivona years ago.
    Dominic wanted to give Helena a gift that belonged to his first wife, her friend, but had not realized the significance of the piece, she said.
    As the dinner progressed, the couple talked and talked.
    "We realized we were a good match," Vivona said. "She liked what I liked, liked the business, and we had a lot in common. It was a good fit."
    "At our age, you kind of ..." Helena drifted off as she patted Dominic's hand.
    "I called her every night," he said, gazing into her face."By that  time I was deeply entrenched in the romance. Helena's oldest brother asked me 'What are your intentions with my sister?'"
    Helena, then 65, and Dominic, then 71, knew what would happen. He had been married to Maddalena 36 years; Helena and Fred were married 41 years. It seemed natural for the two remaining components of the foursome of friends to be together.
    "We knew we wanted to get married," Helena said. "We were not engaged - we just knew."
    Dominic was so sure he purchased a ring in February, waiting two more months to propose in April, he said. They married in July in Charleston. Helena's mother-in-law stood as her mother, and welcomed Vivona into the family.
    "She loves Dominic," Helena said. "She welcomed him as a son-in-law."
    "Not everyone is lucky enough to truly fall i n love," Vivona said.
    Trading her stable, Southern charm-filled life for life on the road, with flashing lights and constant activity, a new town every week, was not a hard move for Helena to make, she said. "He promised me a merry-go-round that would never stop."
    "We're always so busy, it's never a boring life," he said.
    Thursday the couple of four years helped organize a wedding at the Kiwanis fairgrounds between a Stilson native who has worked for Vivona for five years and another carnival worker. Vivona's infant grandson was dressed in a suit for the occasion and Helena provided planters filled with flowers, as she always decorates the exterior and interior of their RV home with flowers and plants.
    They both smiled at each other when the groom kissed the bride.
    "She's a people person," Vivona said of his second wife. "She can fit into any group. It's what you need for this business."
    "I don't feel like I am above or better than anyone," Helena said. "I have been very blessed in my life."
    And when she missed Charleston, she visits. "If I start to lose my accent I just go back for a fix," she said, voice dripping with Spanish moss and magnolias.
    "She can't lose that accent," Vivona said. "That's very important."

     

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